Jeffrey Katzenberg: Steven Spielberg Isn't Out to Get Netflix

The media mogul defends his longtime friend and colleague, claiming he didn't campaign against Netflix and has no plan to block the streamer from awards contention.
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Jeffrey Katzenberg

Steven Spielberg is not campaigning against Netflix films being included in the Oscars. At least according to his longtime friend and collaborator Jeffrey Katzenberg.

Speaking at South by Southwest in Austin on Friday, Katzenberg was asked about Spielberg's reported comments on his commitment to movies getting robust theatrical releases in order to qualify for the Academy Awards.

"I talked to Steven about this yesterday. I asked him very specifically — I don't have any skin in this game anymore — he said, 'I absolutely did not say that,'" Katzenberg said. "He actually said nothing."

"What happened is a journalist was onto a story about this and had heard a rumor about Steven. They called a spokesperson to get a comment and honestly, just twisted it around. One, Steven didn't say that, and two, he is not going to the academy in April with some sort of plan. But he has not opined at all, nor has he aligned with some specific thing."

Spielberg, governor of the academy's directors branch, has been vocal about wanting films to have longer theatrical runs in order to qualify for the Oscars.

"I hope all of us really continue to believe that the greatest contributions we can make as filmmakers is to give audiences the motion picture theatrical experience," Spielberg said while accepting an award from the Cinema Audio Society in February, in an apparent plea to his peers to resist Netflix's increasing power in Hollywood. "I'm a firm believer that movie theaters need to be around forever."

While doing press for Ready Player One in 2018, Spielberg was even more pointed in his criticism: "I don’t believe that films that are just given token qualifications, in a couple of theaters for less than a week, should qualify for the Academy Award nominations,” he said.

“Fewer and fewer filmmakers are going to struggle to raise money, or to compete at Sundance and possibly get one of the specialty labels to release their films theatrically. And more of them are going to let the SVOD businesses finance their films, maybe with the promise of a slight, one-week theatrical window to qualify for awards. But, in fact, once you commit to a television format, you're a TV movie."

Indiewire's Anne Thompson said on a podcast that Spielberg urged for academy voters to vote for Green Book for best picture over Roma, since it would be "a vote for cinema" and the theatrical experience over Roma, which had a very brief qualifying theatrical release before Netflix began distributing it.

Netflix, for its part, responded to the criticisms with a tweet saying the company "love[s] cinema" but also wants to increase access to films like Roma, which typically don't get wide theatrical releases. "These things are not mutually exclusive," the company's statement reads.